Babe House obituary

Kevin Johnson performs during the final show at Babe House. The underground venue served as the hub for Laramie’s DIY scene from its first show in August 2013 until its final show July 24.

Photo courtesy of Annie Warnock

The basement is packed with 30-odd people, most of them wearing black, all of them with earplugs stuffed into their ears. The walls are adorned with black-and-white show posters, Slayer shirts and a sign that asks “Who needs God when you have Satan?” Under the Christmas lights, dwarfed by tower speakers and band equipment, Cole Janzen takes the time between two songs to inform the room, in explicit terms, that sexual abusers have no place in this venue or in this scene.

It’s the last time this group of people will gather in the hot, nearly-soundproof basement of a venue called Babe House.

The venue — also known as ‘Babehaus’ or, when event organizers felt particularly subversive, ‘Baby Hospice’ — served as the Laramie DIY music scene’s central hub for nearly four years before hosting its final show July 24.

“I don’t necessarily know if I can say it sparked the DIY scene back up in Laramie, but it definitely came at a time when a lot of minds were working together across town to bring that scene back,” Janzen said. “ … All in all, it created a consistent all-ages show space, helped start and sustain a few bands and definitely put Laramie on the map for a few years for mid-level DIY touring bands.”

Throughout its tenure, roughly 17 people cycled through Babe House as tenants, taking up residence in one of its four or five bedrooms — including some literally right next to the basement show space — and helping the venue survive.

Janzen lived at Babe House when it started hosting shows in August 2013, but has since moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Niko Kolis, who moved in May 2014, stayed longer than most and will be one of the last tenants with connections to the DIY scene to live there.

“There was always a revolving door,” Kolis said. “A huge part of living there was me always, when the next summer came or whatever, always finding new people to move in to take over for certain people who were getting replaced.”

Kolis and the other current tenants are facing the end of their lease and unlike in the past, there are no new people willing to inherit the combination residence and venue.

“I don’t think you’re going to find this specific set-up of variables that are going to amount to the same thing,” Kolis said. “I think you’re never going to see quite what we had here, at least for quite awhile.”

Babe House was a unique creation that could not have existed outside the special conditions faced by Wyoming musicians — particularly those interested in punk, metal and other unorthodox or explicitly political genres.

Kolis said Babe House was started by a group of people who first picked up instruments in small, Wyoming towns that lacked venues or scenes and first performed out of their garages and other untraditional spaces.

“We have always just kind of had to adhere to the culture that existed here, a culture that’s pretty unflinching and xenophobic and exclusionary and if you’re not a part of it, you’re mistrusted, not accepted, all of that,” Kolis said. “(We thought) ‘We’re going to finally make a place where the average frat bro might come in the house and they might feel how we felt our entire lives up to this point.’”

Being a house venue — rather than, for example, a bar — allowed the people booking Babe House shows to invite the younger-than-21 crowd, which is an ideal set up for a scene that tries to welcome anyone who feels out-of-place, Kolis said.

“There are high schoolers out there that want and need this,” he said. “They’re the outcasts. They don’t fit in in Laramie, Wyoming.”

Chloe Mendez, another current Babe House tenant, found herself the beneficiary of that spirit when she first arrived in Laramie, long before she considered moving in.

Mendez said she found an accepting environment at Babe House, at a time when she felt like an outcast and needed friends.

“I found it really impressive that all of these people were coming together in this very sweaty basement, just playing music that they made with their friends,” Mendez said. “And it seemed more sincere than anything I had heard. So, I got really attached to it because it was really just genuine.”

Like Janzen during the final set of Babe House’s final show, performers often took the time to dedicate their music to marginalized classes of people — to minorities, to LGBTQ people, to victims of sexual assault — making it vehemently clear this was a space that respected everyone, Mendez said.

“They used the floor to not only make a genuine statement with their music, but they also used it to protect those who don’t have a voice,” she said. “They used the microphone to say something that actually mattered. It wasn’t just a cool-kid kind of thing … It made me feel really safe as a girl and as a minority girl.”

Babe House served another crucial purpose for the local scene as an incubator for new bands.

Bars are commercialized venues, where the owners are interested in keeping people around to buy more drinks, said Adam Croft, who first started performing music in the Babe House basement.

“If you’re looking to get your start playing loud music that’s more on the abrasive side just for the sake of doing it, you kind of have to forge your own path,” Croft said. “And I think that’s what Babe House was really instrumental in doing, was giving me the chance to play music for people for the first time in my life and also not feeling like I had to appease some bar owner to get a show.”

Without a place like Babe House, loud bands such as the ones Croft has been a part of, would not have a place to perform, much less practice.

“I think DIY venues like that — venues that just exist for the sake of giving people a place to play where they might not otherwise — are really important because everybody’s got to start somewhere,” he said.

Babe House put Laramie on the DIY map in a big way, by offering touring bands a receptive audience in a unique space in a state they might otherwise pass over.

“After probably the first year, more well known bands in the DIY scene started coming through, and so it really helped people not overlook Laramie as much when routing tours,” Janzen said.

With the death of Babe House, the bands who form the local scene — as well as touring bands — will have to rely more heavily on bar venues.

But the survival of the scene faces a greater challenge still: its members are getting old, by DIY scene standards at least.

“I think DIY is always kind of inherently a youth movement and so I guess I’m just sort of sitting back and waiting to see what the 18 and 19-year-olds come up with, because I’m sure they’ll come up with something,” Croft said.

Individuals in the scene said they hope more young people take an interest and start their own bands.

“I think one of the big failings of Babe House and the Laramie DIY scene in the past couple years was that it didn’t reach the younger kids to start their own bands and kind of take a hold of the scene themselves,” Janzen said. “As people get older, a lot of them phase out, so without younger kids getting involved, it’s really hard to sustain.”

But Croft said moving into more public places might actually help the scene recruit more young people, because bar shows are easier to advertise and rely less on a close-knit scene’s word-of-mouth promotion.

“I think one of the benefits of the DIY scene moving into places like 8 Bytes is that we can start promoting these things to younger folks, who can start carrying the torch for the DIY scene when they see all it takes is a crappy PA system and some friends,” Croft said. “Then I’m sure they’ll continue to do it, too.”

Croft said a scene revival might involve bands from the Babe House era, but it could also arise among completely unconnected young people, making music with their friends and conceiving a new scene all their own.

But a revival is unlikely to have the same unique history that inspired Babe House, Kolis said.

“There’s always a chance somebody’s going to come along and start throwing shows,” he said. “But I think it’s really doubtful that you’re going to get the group of people we had coming together at this time, with a background of all trying to make music work on our own from high school and then coming together.”

Mendez said the scene would not die, even if it quieted down for a while.

“I loved Babe House,” Mendez said. “It’s definitely been saving my life since I was 17. It made me feel like a part of something and I’m from somewhere where you can’t feel a part of anything. And that’s exactly what artists do — they make something out of nothing. And that’s exactly what everybody did at Babe House.”

The house’s final show saw Euth and stoic. — two local bands — team up with Kiddo from Indianapolis and Echo Beds from Denver for an emotional night of reflections and goodbyes.

“I was pretty honored (and) humbled that I got to be in the last band to play the house,” said Janzen, a member of stoic. “As one of the people who started it, I guess it seems cool to be part of closing it out, too.”

As stoic. played a medley of its old songs, friends of the band members grabbed hold of their microphones and sang along.

“Overall, the fact that as many people came — and that so many were emotional, even crying — blew me away,” Janzen said. “When it started, we were just waiting for the cops to come and shut it down. But it really was something amazing that went so far beyond my expectations. I’m glad we got to properly lay it to rest.”

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